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Just the one? : what it means to have only one child in contemporary Britain

Bowcock, Helen (2006) Just the one? : what it means to have only one child in contemporary Britain. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent. (doi:10.22024/UniKent/01.02.94224) (KAR id:94224)


This thesis examines the way the problem associated with having just the one child has been socially constructed. And it explores parents’ own meanings for having just the one, finding a marked discrepancy between public assumptions and lived realities. It reports on qualitative interviews conducted with contemporary parents, comparing those who had chosen not to have a second child with those who found themselves involuntarily limited to only one. It also explores what parents have to say about bringing up their child, taking into account important inter-generational differences, in the context of profound social change.

This study was prompted by the recognition that, as a family form, the single child family occupies a problematic and ambiguous place in British society. In examining the way it came to be constructed as problematic, it highlights the convergence of psychological discourse with the politicisation of the question of family size. It seeks to demonstrate that, in recent years, increased maternal workforce participation has reinforced notions of voluntarism and of selfishness in relation to low fertility. And it suggests that the assumption of voluntarism has been further reinforced and ambiguity increased by the recent availability of reproductive technology, with its illusion of reproductive control.

The research has been informed by theories of social problem construction and of interpretative analysis. In examining the way a public problem has been constructed, then exploring private meanings at the individual level among those who are its subjects, it marks a new development in the scholarship of social problem research. It demonstrates that people are not only products but also producers of discourse. They do not simply conform to the identity conferred upon them by claims-makers but construct their own coherent, powerful meanings. In so doing, the parents who participated in this study provided a new insight into contemporary parenting exposing a clear cultural contradiction in its dominant ideology.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
DOI/Identification number: 10.22024/UniKent/01.02.94224
Additional information: This thesis has been digitised by EThOS, the British Library digitisation service, for purposes of preservation and dissemination. It was uploaded to KAR on 25 April 2022 in order to hold its content and record within University of Kent systems. It is available Open Access using a Creative Commons Attribution, Non-commercial, No Derivatives ( licence so that the thesis and its author, can benefit from opportunities for increased readership and citation. This was done in line with University of Kent policies ( If you feel that your rights are compromised by open access to this thesis, or if you would like more information about its availability, please contact us at and we will seriously consider your claim under the terms of our Take-Down Policy (
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
Divisions: Divisions > Division for the Study of Law, Society and Social Justice > School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research
SWORD Depositor: SWORD Copy
Depositing User: SWORD Copy
Date Deposited: 05 Jul 2023 09:26 UTC
Last Modified: 05 Jul 2023 09:26 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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